“If we are going to tackle issues of quality, we need to explore redesigns of law schools that do more than just shorten the time to graduation. A better solution is to encourage law schools to experiment with programs that foster learning on the job.”
by Jeremy Paul, Dean and Professor of Law
After 30 years in the legal academy, including teaching stints at four different law schools and five years as dean at the University of Connecticut, I am thrilled to find myself occupying the dean’s office here at Northeastern. Of course, Boston was a draw. From our campus, I can walk easily to the Boston Symphony, the Prudential Center, the Museum of Fine Arts and the particular house of worship known as Fenway Park.
But what ultimately lured me to my new professional home on the Avenue of the Arts is a passion for the virtues of experiential learning. People often say that the value of law school is that it teaches each student to “think like a lawyer.” But when I get into a taxi downtown, I don’t want someone behind the wheel who “thinks like a driver.” I want someone who “drives like a driver.” Similarly, I want an attorney who “acts like a lawyer.”
I can’t think of a better way to train such an attorney than to have him or her experience the joys and challenges of working in a professional setting while still in school. That’s the philosophy behind our signature Co-op Program, in which each student completes four, full-time work placements, acting as a lawyer within law firms, government agencies, legal services organizations, corporate legal offices and countless other workplace environments in which legal skills are needed.
Those unfamiliar with our model may misunderstand the Northeastern experience as one that grapples only with the practicalities of going to court or advising a client. We do teach these invaluable skills, but our aspirations are far higher than conveying directions to the courthouse. Co-op isn’t like taking typing lessons while your classmates elsewhere read Shakespeare. Co-op is more like playing a piano recital of Bach or Beethoven while students at other law schools work on perfecting scales.
But we need not search for the ideal metaphor to convey the advantages of Northeastern’s co-op model. Consider:
- Our students graduate with roughly a year of practice experience giving them confidence and the ability to hit the ground running.
- Our students launch at least four professional networks while still in school, creating a lifelong cadre of attorneys with whom they network.
- Our students complete multiple interview processes, creating opportunities to be far more reflective about whom they are and what they have to offer, not to mention providing considerable experience interviewing and perfecting their resumes.
- Our students sample different forms of law practice so they make far more intelligent decisions about how to manage their careers. They select the geographic locations that best fit their objectives.
- Our students experience numerous transitions from one setting to another just as they will do in the professional world.
- Our students bring their practice lessons back to the classroom thus making class much more interesting because EVERYONE in the classroom has legal and life experiences to share.
We augment the virtues of co-op by providing each student a career coach who stays with each student from the moment they arrive on campus. We are here to guide students at every step as they grow into confident professionals. But the ultimate strength of the Northeastern model grows from our faith in our students. We have built a program based on the idea that students arrive on campus as adults ready to steer their own educational development. I urge readers considering a legal career to join us in this exciting approach to professional education.